By Denise A. Valdez, Reporter

COCA-COLA Beverages Philippines, Inc. is boosting its digital platforms to cope with changing consumer behavior due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Winn Everhart, president and general manager of the local unit of Coca-Cola, said in an e-mail to BusinessWorld the company is now focusing efforts to improve its e-commerce presence to lift consumer demand.

“With the ongoing shift in consumer behavior, we have… observed that a lot are moving into the online world rapidly and we are therefore strengthening our digital and e-commerce platforms,” he said.

The company currently operates a delivery service that sends Coca-Cola products straight to homes. Among these products are carbonated drinks, flavored juice and bottled water.

“Coca-Cola has always been a staple in Filipino households, and we will continue to build on this strength as more drinking occasions emerge at the comforts of their home,” Mr. Everhart added.

In an online forum by BusinessWorld on May 27, Mr. Everhart said Coca-Cola Philippines was being challenged by the lockdown as its beverages used to be commonly consumed in restaurants and sporting events. These venues have shut or limited operations since March to observe quarantine protocols.

“The pandemic’s impact to our business was felt more in the latter part of quarter 1 and this quarter 2 as a result of the lockdowns. However, we are seeing an improvement especially as the lockdowns are lifted and away from home channels like restaurants are also re-opening,” Mr. Everhart said in his e-mail Wednesday.

In a regulatory filing by The Coca-Cola Co., the Atlanta-based parent company of Coca-Cola Philippines, it said unit case volume in the Philippines recorded a 4% growth in the first quarter. Unit case volume is its measure of beverage products directly and indirectly sold to consumers.

The performance in the Philippines is against the drop in unit case volume observed in nearly all countries where Bottling Investments Group (BIG) operates. BIG is the subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Co. that handles bottling operations in most Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines.

“Unit case volume for Bottling Investments declined 5%. Declines in nearly all of our consolidated bottling operations as a result of COVID-19 were partially offset by 4% growth in the Philippines bottling operation,” the company said in the regulatory filing.

“[T]he outbreak and preventive measures taken to contain COVID-19 negatively impacted our unit case volume and our price, product and geographic mix in all of our operating segments, primarily due to unfavorable channel and product mix as consumer demand has shifted to more at-home consumption versus away from home,” it added.

The Philippines is Coca-Cola’s fourth-largest market in terms of unit case volume in Asia-Pacific in 2019, making up 8% of total volume for the region. The three markets above it are China (38%), India (15%) and Japan (13%).

Despite the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Everhart said Coca-Cola Philippines is positive it will start seeing an improvement in the coming months.

“In our 108 years here in the Philippines, we have always emerged stronger through every crisis and we are optimistic that by supporting our employees, customers, partners and communities, our business will thrive in this next normal,” he said.